Thursday, January 20

Red erring: players are the losers in rugby’s happy campaign for a safer game | Rugby union

This weekend Sam Skinner should be tying his boots to play for Exeter in a Premiership final. But in the final round of the regular season, he doubled his 6-foot-5-inch frame to face a 5-foot-7-inch scrum-half. He caught him over the head and thus became the last player to receive a red card.

Skinner misses the climax of the season due to the mandatory ban. And you can also forget about the calls to play for the Lions or Scotland this summer. It is a great injustice, in which too many are willing to shrug their shoulders while repeating some mantra, transmitted from on high, that these red cards are for the good of the players. So far there is no evidence to suggest this.

In the final week of the 2019 World Cup, the game’s governing body, World Rugby, Announced “The best results of the well-being of the players”. Subsequent headlines from around the world joined the chorus: The campaign for safer play was being won. And yet, in the official World Cup injury audit, published in the South African Journal of Medical Science in February 2020, the figures tell a different story.

The main figure in the 2019 press release stated that the number of injury replacements in a match had fallen from 2.08 in the 2015 World Cup to 1.13 in 2019. But World Rugby has explained to us that the 2019 figure excluded all concussion injuries. , because they were being addressed in another part of the statement. The 2015 figure, however, made They include concussions, the most common injury in the game. This detail was omitted.

The press release also stated that concussions had fallen from the 2015 figure of 12.5 per 1,000 gamer hours to 10.5 in 2019, a 16% drop. This was presented as a fact before the tournament ended, in effect declaring victory before the final whistle. In the end, World Rugby explains, two more cases came to light from previous matches, with two more in the final, bringing the true figure to 12.2 per 1,000 player hours, a rather less dramatic drop from 2, 2%, partially explained by a 1% drop in the crash rate in 2019. No public correction was issued.

A World Rugby spokesperson told us: “We can and must foster a healthy, open and transparent debate on science and statistics at all levels of the game,” and that “only through honest, transparent and engaged dialogue can we better understand the impacts on the well-being of the players ”.

World Rugby’s best work to date is A study of 611 Head Injury Assessments (HIA) in three elite rugby seasons. It resulted in the player expulsion policy for head contact, which has been in effect since January 2017.

The data provided is rich, but the set of keys is related to the number of EIS when the attacker is standing. The chances of an EIS are 44% higher, so the stated goal of the red card policy is for tacklers to bend at the waist. But of those 611 EIS, only 164 occurred when the tackler was standing. Therefore, it is possible to calculate the best hypothetical reduction that we could expect if we never saw another straight tackler again. The answer is 50 out of 611, or 8%. By the way, the number of EIS resulting from a high tackle was 18, or 3%.

We should never expect this red card wild west to change the dial more than a fraction on the concussion front. As for the broader question of neurodegenerative conditions in old age, we shouldn’t expect even that, because the problem there is a constant beating over a long career.

The key problem for tacklers is that they are always one step behind. The proactive part is the player with the ball, through whom the line of legality is drawn, constantly changing at high speeds. Four years later, the height of the tackle has short. Big shots to the upper body are no longer practiced or celebrated as before. The tacklers are doing their best.

If deterrence worked, there would be no more red cards, but they keep coming. That is because these crimes are not deliberate. Players are being sent off for, at worst, technical deficiencies, in almost all cases for incidents they cannot avoid.

The Premiership in England is subject to the longest-running injury study in elite rugby. In the latest report, concussion rates were as high as ever. Another trial With a reduced tackle height among championship clubs in England, too small to be conclusive, concussion rates increased by 31%.

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Lower tackle height may not lead to fewer brain injuries, but that doesn’t mean it’s undesirable, even if it must be achieved through education, training, and changing laws. Which brings us back to the treatment of data by World Rugby in 2019.

At its core, this is a public relations battle, and it is real. Rugby will never face a liquidation order for health and safety reasons, but it could disappear from scratch when parents and their children walk away. In such a context, a hit to the head in a high-profile game is just plain bad. Waving red cards is the easiest way to make rugby look like it’s doing all it can. Therefore, the blame for the gambling crisis falls on the scapegoat players, those same poor souls who take the beating in the first place for our entertainment.

If rugby can live with that as a necessary evil in the battle to win hearts and minds, so be it, but this red card purge is almost no health benefit to the players. His only merit on that front is to give them a break from hitting while they abide by their bans.

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